History of County
Before the City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County were founded, the Shenandoah Valley was home to Native Americans including the Iroquois, Siouan, Shawnee, and Tuscarora. Over hundreds of years, they carved a footpath through the Valley’s center that later became known as the Great Wagon Road (US Route 11). It was the main thoroughfare that enabled colonists to travel south from Pennsylvania.
Honeycombed with freshwater springs and caverns, the valley’s lush meadows and forested mountainsides were prized by German and Scots-Irish settlers who established productive farms, mills, and thriving communities during America’s frontier days. They brought with them the strong values of the Quaker, Mennonite, and Brethren faiths, a love of music that led to the establishment of the nation’s first gospel music publishing company, and a work ethic that continues to draw major employers to the area today.
By the mid-1700s, nearly all of the Native Americans had left the valley and moved west. Thousands of settlers followed as they sought to establish new farms and homes in the Kentucky territory and Ohio River Valley. Several prominent settlers stayed in Rockingham County before traveling west, including Daniel Boone and Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather, also named Abraham. Boone’s wife and children lived in the Linville area while he explored the wilderness on the western side of the Alleghany Mountains. Lincoln’s ancestral home can be found on Harpine Highway (Route 42) in Rockingham County.
Frontier life in the valley focused on religion, family, and farming. The work was hard, but the settlers prospered, leading the Shenandoah Valley to become known as the “breadbasket of the Confederacy” during the Civil War.
Several battles were waged in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County during the Civil War, largely due to the valley’s proximity to Washington and its strategic significance. Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson successfully kept a large portion of the Union forces engaged in his Valley Campaign of 1862, preventing them from moving eastward and massing for an attack on Richmond. In 1864, valley residents, many of whom had declined to fight for religious reasons, had their barns burned and their farms destroyed by Union General Philip Sheridan, who sought to bring an end to the Valley’s ability to supply the Confederate Army.
Even the bloodiest war in U.S. history could not stop the productivity of valley residents. They rebuilt, replanted, and retooled. Today, Rockingham County is home to approximately 79,000 people engaged in agriculture, education, advanced manufacturing, high technology, and biotechnology. They are reaping the benefits of a diversified economy that has provided respite from the ups and downs that have buffeted other communities. The county continues its mission of implementing an economic strategy of attracting new business and industry that are compatible with the way of life in the Shenandoah Valley and assisting in the retention and expansion of existing companies.
Located in the heart of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Rockingham County is nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Allegheny Mountains on the west. Rockingham County is the third largest county in Virginia and encompasses 853 square miles of diverse terrain. A quick trip down Interstate 81 corridor, we are only a two-hour drive to Washington, D.C.
Rockingham County, created from a portion of Augusta County in 1778 and named for the Marquis of Rockingham, a British statesman sympathetic with the American Revolution, is divided into five election districts, which include seven incorporated towns. The county seat of Harrisonburg was named in honor of Thomas Harrison and founded in 1780. Today, Harrisonburg and Rockingham County form the Harrisonburg Metropolitan Area, which was named as one of the best performing small metropolitan areas in the United States, according to the Milken Institute.